ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of popular video app TikTok, said Thursday that some employees this summer improperly accessed TikTok user data from US journalists and are no longer employed by the company.
In an email to employees Thursday, ByteDance general counsel Eric Andersen said employees gained access to the data to try to identify possible links between the two employees and two reporters who worked for BuzzFeed and the Financial Times after information about the company was leaked.
After an investigation by an outside law firm, one ByteDance employee quit and three others were fired from The New York Times website. Two of the workers were in China and the other two were in the United States
Company officials said they are taking additional steps to protect user data.
The disclosure of ByteDance could add to the pressure facing TikTok in Washington from lawmakers and the Biden administration over security concerns over US user data. Congress is expected to pass legislation this week to ban US government employees from downloading or using TikTok on their government-owned devices.
Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada’s cyberespionage agency also monitors security threats from TikTok.
TikTok promises data protection
In a separate email to employees seen by Reuters, TikTok CEO Xu Ziqiu said that “employee misconduct does not at all represent what I know of our company principles.”
He said that the company “will continue to improve these access protocols, which have already been significantly improved and strengthened since the implementation of this initiative.”
Over the past 15 months, Chiu said, the company has implemented a data security feature, TikTok US Data Security (USDS), to ensure that TikTok US user data remains secure in the United States.
“We are completing the migration of protected user data management from the US to the USDS department and have systematically cut access points,” Qiu said.
ByteDance also said it is restructuring its internal audit and risk control department, and the global investigation function will be separated and restructured. The company added that it would reform the investigation process to include a supervisory board.